Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why I Voted for Obama Today

I found out I was gay during a sunny weekend afternoon in my early teenage years. I was watching the women’s final at Wimbledon and it will come as no surprise to most of you that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were duking it out for the cup. I had been a tennis fan for what is a long time at that age… about a year. I was infatuated with it, watching as much of it as I could, buying tennis magazine subscriptions with my allowance and even reading Martina’s autobiography.

That sunny weekend afternoon, as I sat on the couch absorbed in the Wimbledon final, my mother briefly stopped her chores to watch with me and at some point she mentioned to me that Martina was gay.

And that was when I knew it. My light bulb flared brightly… it was as if the clouds has parted and the sun’s rays shined brightly enough to cut through the fog.

I was gay, too. I finally had a little understanding. This was why I always felt so different. This was why I wasn’t interested in all the boys like my other girlfriends were. This was why I’d rather have my nose stuck in a book reading about fairy tale lands rather than hang out with the gaggle of girls and whisper about who was the cutest boy in our class.

It wasn’t much to go on and I had much, much more understanding to find in the years to come but for a brief moment on that early weekend afternoon, I at last had a name for it.

It should have been a happy moment and for me, it was. But even at that age I knew instinctually that this wasn’t “normal”. Being different in my town and in my school wasn’t hip like it is now. You wore the clothes everyone else wore and you went to the places everyone else went and you said the things everyone else said. Being different wasn’t a good thing when I was growing up.

So I kept it to myself for a long time. I read anything I could get my hands on, lurking quietly in the “Gay and Lesbian” section of Bookstop. I recall even today how agonizing it was to take a book from that section to the cashier. I would actually break out in a sweat and my stomach would knot up as I wondered if they would call my mom or grandma over to approve my “questionable choice” in reading material.

I discovered Rita Mae Brown and read everything I could get my hands on. I watched every movie I could watch that had anything remotely to do with being gay… “Personal Best” comes to mind. All this I tried to do quietly and in secret. I wanted… needed, craved… information about who I was but I also wanted to be “normal” like everyone else. There was a battle raging inside of me and no one to talk to about it.

In high school I developed a huge crush on [Barbara Callaway]. She was the Homecoming Queen, head cheerleader, MVP in volleyball. She was beautiful and smart and popular. Think back to your first big high school crush. Remember the raging hormones? The agonizing emotions? The all-consuming obsession of it all? I experienced all of that, too… I thought I was in love. Yet for me it was different. It wasn’t as if I could walk up to Barbara and ask her to the next football game. It wasn’t like we could ever DATE like normal people. My feelings for Barbara were wrong, I kept thinking, and I shouldn’t be having them. I couldn’t give in to these emotions and I fought them. I became angry and would lash out at teachers, at my family. I had no outlet, no one to turn to.

And finally, one day, I could no longer keep it all inside. I told a friend of mine, Melinda and Melinda eventually told Barbara and my world came crashing down around me. I recall one afternoon after school… I went into my mother and my step-father’s bedroom, took out his hand gun from the wardrobe where he kept it and stared straight down the barrel of the gun. I didn’t know if the gun was loaded but I wanted to know if I was capable of killing myself if things got too bad at school. I actually wrote about it in my journalism class when we had to write a descriptive paragraph. I wrote my paragraph about looking down the barrel of a gun.

Eventually I learned to seek out those who were more accepting of me. Unfortunately those people tended to be unhealthy for me in every other way. I quit school, left home and became embroiled in a world of alcohol and drugs for many years.

I often wonder how different my life might have been had I been free to be myself. If I had been able to freely talk about being gay. If I had not been so terrified of being different. I think I wouldn’t have been so angry. I think I would have stayed in school, at the very least. Perhaps I would have gone to college. Perhaps I wouldn’t have tried so hard to get out of the small town I grew up in. Perhaps I would not have felt so isolated, so fucking alone. I sometimes wonder at the fact that I’m still alive. Or not in prison.

These days I am comfortable with who I am. I have learned to accept myself and my differences and even appreciate it on some levels. But even now, I sometimes find myself in a situation where being myself doesn’t seem to be an option. I never felt comfortable coming out at Oil & Gas-R-Us and I was miserable there. Even in this day and age in America, I am unable to be myself without fear of reprisal in many places and situations.

Because of this I have always had a natural affinity to minorities, to the underdogs of the country. Because of this I will not vote Republican because Republicans want to keep it this way. Because of this I sometimes find myself hurt and angry at friends and family who vote for the party that thinks it’s ok to grow up the way I grew up. I tell myself that mine is not the only issue and I should not judge them.

But I do. I do judge them. I love them anyway, but it still hurts.

I want kids like me to grow up in a better atmosphere. I want them to have someone to talk to. I want them feel free to be who they are. I want them to be able to understand, talk it out with someone, accept and move on to more important things like college, career, family. I don’t want them to search for acceptance in bars.

I want America to be their country, too.

This is why I voted for Obama today.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Second Annual Brigid in Cyberspace Poetry Reading

In honor of the second annual blogger poetry reading I submit the following Haiku:


Knowledge
Gift to our children
Not freedom or great wealth, but
Thought to the future
And because I am feeling incredibly generous, I also pass on this poem which appeals to me on several different levels:
Dead Woman
Pablo Neruda

If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall live on.

I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.

I shall live on.

For where a man has no voice,
there, my voice.

Where blacks are beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers go to prison
I shall go with them.

When victory,
not my victory,
but the great victory comes,
even though I am mute I must speak;
I shall see it come even though I am blind.

No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but
I shall stay alive,
because above all things you wanted me indomitable,
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all mankind.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Oversight - Never Saw THAT Coming

Today's Houston Chronicle has an interesting story (reprinted from the NYTimes) arguing how hard the US worked to delay the Saddam Hussein hanging. In fact, if all you read was the headline - US fought for hours to put off hanging; Baghdad deaf to arguments to delay Saddam execution - you'd think, well, we tried to do the right thing. Reading through the article, however, one finds things are not always what they seem. Go figure.

On Thursday, before the dawn Friday hanging, US military officials, lead by Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, head of Task Force 134, the detainee unit, and embassy personnel, in the person of Margaret Scobey, head of the embassy's political section (WTF), were negociating with Iraqi officials on the timing of the handover. PM al-Maliki wanted the former dictator turned over immediately, while the Americans favored a delay, to allow for time to carry out the execution with international support. When al-Maliki persisted, Gardner demanded letters from the PM, President Talibani, and the presiding judge, affirming the legality of the execution.

All clear up to this point - the Shiite Iraqi government wanted desperately to execute the Sunni badman on the morning of the Sunni eid (one of their holiest days). The US wanted to wait for more politically correct timing. The Iraqis won because they played their trump card, "The Iraqis said that the tribunal's own statute, drafted by the Americans, placed its rulings beyond review." Got that? We really wanted to stop them, or at least organize it as some highly dignified photo-of, but we couldn't because in setting up their government for them, we gave the Iraqis the power to execute without oversight. How ironic is that?

Interestingly enough, after reading this crock of shiite, it struck me that I had been meaning to comment on oversight in this country. The guys over at TPMMuckraker have done a wonderful job chronicling how much oversight and review the Bush administration has managed to eradicate from our government. Give it a read and wonder what fiascos are being kept from the American people and why we continue to trust them to carry out the garbage, let alone conduct the business of the country. Oversight, we don't need no stinking oversite.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

National Co-dependent Nightmare

So the next big thing on the Iraq War front (stc says blithely, like she hasn't been awol for several months) is the mindless and irrational notion of a "sustained surge", because escalation didn't sound sexy enough. And because this new message was met with the derision it deserves, we have been called upon to accept the need for "sacrifice" as if the majority of us don't already understand the nature of the sacrifices made by those who have served and died, are still over there, and those who look certain to be called into Bush's War over the next two years. Those of us who knew this debacle was a mistake to begin with know, the American people who voted out the Republican do-nothing congress know, hell, the entire world knows the sacrifices being made in Iraq, except for the very ignorant, misguided and evil men who took us there to begin with.

In his White House Briefing, Dan Froomkin asks, "Where is the outrage?" of the American people who are having their wishes ignored and their soldiers put in harm's way on a fool's errand with no objective or hope of success. He points us to Keith Olbermann's most recent Special Comment (via C&L and well worth a listen) who calls out W with these preminiscent words, "First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush. Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego."

Froomkin also points out Jane Smiley at Huffington Post, who posits the very real observation and resultant question,
"People always comment on how stubborn George W. Bush is, or how stupid he is,
or how ignorant he is, but what they don't comment on is how selfish he is.
Clearly, the face that is being saved in this probable "surge" is his face, and
that's how he wants it... {The Bush Administration} were indifferent to
everything about the war except George W. Bush's mood. When his mood was good,
they told him some nice things about Iraq, and when his mood was bad, they kept
the bad news from him so his mood wouldn't get worse. Remember how the former
British Ambassador was warned by Condi Rice as he went into a meeting with Bush,
"Don't make him angry"? One thing I have always wondered about Bush, that I
wonder even more now, is what is the source of his power over these people, that
come hell (Iraq) or high water (Katrina), they do what he wants? Does he throw
things? Does he hold his breath and turn red in the face, so that they worry
he'll have a stroke? Does he hit people? Does he shout, "Off with his head!"?
Does he send high level dissenters to Gitmo? (I wish he would, so that they
could come to experience and understand conditions there). Do they just defer to
him because of the office of the Presidency? (No one did that with Bill
Clinton). Why would anyone feel allegiance to George W. Bush? It's a mystery,
and it's a mystery that is killing people every day."


Finally, Froomkin shares the wisdom of an anonymous reader who suggests,
"Obviously we will have to change course, but he's not going to be the guy to do
it. He will then maintain that someone else 'lost' Iraq because they didn't have
the courage and determination to stick it out. As with everything in his life,
from his National Guard service to his serial failures in business and life in
general, it's all about him - not the country, not the job, not our reputation
in the world or our hard won and universally admired heritage of concern for
basic human rights. He's not trying to save this country or Iraq, he's trying to
save himself and his 'place in history'. He's completely wrong of course, but
given his history of privilege and never having to suffer the consequences of
his long record of bad decisions, it does kind of make sense. We assume that,
like most Presidents, he connects his self-image with actual success or failure
in the real world. I increasingly am drawn to the conclusion that, regardless of
the facts on the ground, he will consider himself a success as long as he never
admits that his ill-fated adventure in Iraq can't succeed."


I post all these links both because they are excellent in and of themselves, but also because they tend to coincide with and confirm something I have supposed for many years, that George W. Bush is seriously mentally ill. I've talked in the past about how "dry drunk" W missed several of the most important of the 12 steps, including a fearless moral inventory, amends, and regular critical self-review. This allows him to claim to have overcome alcohol abuse, while never really admitting he had a problem to begin with, and it is in this very episode that we find the blackhole that lies in the midst of Bush's psyche.

Wikipedia describes Personality Disorders as
"characterized by long-lasting rigid patterns of thought and
actions...Personality disorders are seen by the American Psychiatric Association
as an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly
from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it. These
patterns are inflexible and pervasive across many situations. The onset of the
pattern can be traced back at least to the beginning of adulthood. To be
diagnosed as a personality disorder, a behavioral pattern must cause significant
distress or impairment in personal, social, and/or occupational situations."

Moreover, "Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by extreme focus on oneself, and is a maladaptive, rigid, and persistent condition that may cause significant distress and functional impairment...At least five of the following are necessary for a diagnosis (as with many DSM diagnoses, they must form a pervasive pattern; for example, a person who shows these criteria only in one or two relationships or situations would not properly be diagnosed with NPD): 1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (he's The Decider); 2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love (Iraq); 3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by other special people (believes God speaks to/through him); 4) requires excessive admiration ("Don't make him angry?"); 5) strong sense of entitlement (oh, Lord, don't get me started on this one); 6) takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends (the American people, the soldiers who have died in Iraq); 7) lacks empathy (Iraq, Katrina, tax cuts, healthcare, surge); 8) is often envious or believes others are envious of him or her (I'm going back to The Decider on this one, petulant reactions to anyone whom he believes is stealing his thunder; 9) arrogant affect (in psychiatric speak, affect means mood, see Jane Smiley's comments above, it's all about him). I make that nine out of nine.

Add to the mix this general definition - Narcissism is a psychological disorder resulting from a person’s belief that he or she is not flawed in a way that makes the person fallible to others (see Bush's alcoholism), and the tendency for narcissists to surround themselves with co-narcissists who feel responsible for, accept blame readily for another, are eager to please another, defer to another's opinions, and fear being considered selfish if they act assertively (Condi, Harriett, Laura, many Cabinet members, Generals, etc).

Bush is a full-blown Narcissist in a high degree of dysfunction, and if he were anyone else in the world, would be under psychaitric care, not trusted to make major decisions, unemployable, you name it. But because he was born a Bush (and this is most likely the key to his disorder, his well-established dysfunctional relationship with his parents), he has never had to suffer the consequesnces of his actions and has risen to the most powerful position in the world functionally disabled. And before you discount this premise as fanciful, possible, but trivial, remember that this very disability is primarily responsible for the deaths of 3000+ American servicemen and women, somewhere in the nature of half a million Iraqis, not to mention the aftermath of Katrina and many, many other domestic troubles. And because we as a country have tacitly allowed this behavior to control our lives for six and counting long years, we are all co-dependent in this long national nightmare.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Thanks Quasar

The comments are where it's at in the blogosphere. In response to this post, A Tale of Two Stories, reader quasar made the point that subjects like child abuse serve a deeper purpose in schools. It may very well open the door to discussions that benefit the millions of victims who otherwise choose to remain silent. On this point I agree completely, and would like to welcome and thank quasar for joining the discussion.

While I did not fully touch on the topic in the original post, this was the Headmistress' stand in backing her teacher on the subject of Brokeback Mountain. She was quite eloquent and forthright in explaining the mission statement of her school and their curriculum. As Lucy Nazro explains, "...And I led by explaining what it means to be an Episcopal school. We're a school where emphasis is on reason and open inquiry, on inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. An Episcopal school is basically modeled on love. I think the word Christian has been captured,' she continues. 'Maybe in some people's minds a Christian school would not teach Brokeback Mountain. In my mind, being Christian is in how you treat people. I think it's important to open up the world like Kimberly does. What we're hoping will happen is kids will learn about the world, its hurt and its brokenness, and then go out and try to make it a better place."

It was in enviroment that Kimberly Hurd chose to teach both Brokeback Mountain and God of Small Things. And I can see why: if I were a teacher, I would want to teach there; if I were a student, I would want to learn there; as a parent, I would want my children to learn from that kind of school. Which is why my very personal reaction to the second story in this tale came as such a shock.

At this point I must update some information on God of Small Things. Bubba and others, who have actually read the book (I must, must, must make time to read it myself) inform me that the child abuse mentioned is a small part of the overall story. There is also a scene of incest that some might controversial. In all, this was a book with a very strong message, as one must accept Brokeback to be as well.

The question then is, are these books appropriate reading materials for high school students? As Lucy Nazro asked, "Is it the right book for that age of student? Does it fit within the year's curriculum? Will it move students to the next skills level?" Her answers were yes, yes, yes, in both cases. In talking to many others who have read both books and are similar grade level educators, the answer has been mixed.

Without being too oblique, I have my own reasons for finally accepting my own judgment. Yes, students today face far more challenging topics in their every day lives. They live in the day of AIDS, Colombine, pharm parties and cigars. The idea that anything shocks kids today is laughable. Being forced to TALK about these things can't be bad. On the other hand, some subjects may be personally taboo for some students, and a good teacher would make it his/her business to find out why, and help them resolve their problem.

As dear Lucy says, "Life's a whole lot easier when it's black and white. The Episcopal Church deals with grays. And that makes some people uncomfortable." This should go for teachers too. Education is not one size fits all and there are millions of other books to read.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

The Path to Deception

There's a lot of hoopla over ABC/Disney's upcoming docudrama, The Path to 9/11. Personally, I think it's still a little too fresh on my mind so I won't be watching it, just as I didn't go see the movie The World Trade Center. Flight 93 was difficult enough to watch. I guess I'm a little sick of those who have been using 9/11 for financial and/or political gain. It seems that anytime someone invokes the 9/11 tragedy these days it's to make some sort of political point. I know I know... that's the way the cookie crumbles in this brave new world where money and political power are the new Gods. But still.

For me, 9/11 represents the end of America as we knew it. It was the beginning and the end of so much. I look back on the prosperity of the 90's and I remember how it felt to say "The President is da bomb" in a phone conversation and not wonder if someone in some dark, dank bunker somewhere was making a note of it. I remember what it was like to fill my gas tank up for $15 and take a few college courses for a couple hundred bucks. I remember that America still had the right to say "shame on you" to countries who tortured and indefinitely jailed their people. I remember a less cynical country where conservatives and liberals could have a lively debate at the corner pub and buy each other a beer at the end of it. I remember an America that went to war only as a last resort and a time when terrorism, WMD's, Iraq and wiretapping were not part of the public discourse.

We are certainly not that America any longer and I not only mourn for the lives of those lost on 9/11 but for my country... a country which quickly lost its way in the confusion and complexities of a post 9/11 world.

So I won't be watching the docudrama. And I'm glad because from what I am hearing, it's a load of crappola anyway. When Bill O'Reilly agrees with Democrats, you know something's rotten in the District of Columbia.

For one thing, the miniseries cost forty million dollars but no one seems to know who paid for it. It will be run without commercials so there are no ad sponsors. And no one seems to be coming forward and saying "It's me... I paid for it." For another thing, ABC sent out 900 copies but not a one went to the people portrayed in the dramatisized scenes, or in fact to any liberals or progressives at all. The pre-released versions went to conservative journalists and even a few right-wing bloggers. The film supposedly slams the Clinton adminstration... Bill himself, Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright... but none were given copies even after they asked nicely. All three have said that from what they've heard, the way the events are portrayed in the docudrama are not only a little off, but complete fabrications. Prominent historians have written ABC and Disney to ask them to please refrain from airing the show because they are concerned about the airing of a ficticious docudrama that misleads the American people about one of the most dramatic events in our history. Even conservatives are weighing in:

"Ok, we’re talking about the run up to 9-11 and this movie that they’re re-cutting now and they should because it puts words in the mouth of real people, actors playing real people that they didn’t say and its wrong." [O’Reilly radio show, 9/8/06] - Bill O'Reilly

"I think that if you have a scene, or two scenes, or three scenes, important scenes, that do not have any bearing on reality and you can edit them, I think they should edit them." [MSNBC, 9/6/06] - Brent Bozell, founder and president of the conservative Media Research Center

"If people wanted to be critical of the Clinton years there’s things they could have said, but the idea that someone had bin Laden in his sights in 1998 or any other time and Sandy Berger refused to pull the trigger, there’s zero factual basis for that." [CNN, 9/7/06]- Richard Miniter, conservative author of “Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror”

"Look, “The Path to 9/11″ is strewn with a lot of problems and I think there were problems in the Clinton administration. But that’s no reason to falsify the record, falsify conversations by either the president or his leading people and you know it just shouldn’t happen." [CNN, 9/8/06] - Bill Bennett, conservative author, radio host, and TV commentator

"When you put somebody on the screen and say that’s Madeleine Albright and she said this in a specific conversation and she never did say it, I think it’s slanderous, I think it’s defamatory and I think that ABC and Disney should be held to account." [Fox, 9/8/06] - Chris Wallace, Fox News Sunday anchor


In light of ABC and Disney's docudrama and in light of the recent events involving the New York Times and the illegal NSA wiretaps (executive editor Bill Keller knew about the illegal NSA wiretaps before the 2004 elections but he sat on the story because... well, because the GOP asked him to)... in light of all of these revelations, can we please put the "liberal media" myth to rest now? Thanks.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Tale of Two Stories

There was a very interesting article in the Sept. issue of Texas Monthly called "The Good Book and the Bad Book" by John Spong. In it he tells the story of St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, and the fallout from one teacher's decision to have her senior literature class read Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. The article is behind the veil at texasmonthly.com and too long to reprint here, but it is very well-written and thought-provoking. So much so, I have been driven to post again after quite a long absence.

The tale begins when teacher Kimberly Horne decided to present Brokeback Mountain in her senior English class in 2001-2002. At the time a little known magazine article that had been included in some anthologies, the story proved an instructive example of language and tone, abstract and specific, alienation and acceptance, just the sort of material teachers look for in pushing their seniors to the next level in preparation for college.

There was little or no controversy over the book until four years later, just about the time the movie came out. Suddenly, certain parents did not want their children exposed to this book. One large donor to the school's building fund withdrew their 3 million dollar pledge after the school's Head decided to back her teacher and the school's curriculum. The donor, Kate McNair, explains, "We assumed this was a Christian school, and these kinds of materials would not be handed to our children. We're not a bunch of homophobes, we just don't want our children reading smut...snip...I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. That is my faith. But we came to find out this was not a Christian school. It is Episcopal. And shame on me for not knowing what the Episcopal Church has gone through the past few years. If they took the word 'Christian' out of their mission statement, that would be different. But they won't. And they messed with us."

Now, never mind the way McNair denigrates Christians who do not happen to to agree with her on the inerrancy of the Bible. Even though we happen to outnumber her 3:1, we aren't Real Christians. Thinking about that would make me mad, and I don't want to go there right now. Also, don't imagine the ramifications of her ilk getting a hold of the school's science curriculum, but it would be a lot like Kansas', Toto. The thing to remember is that these are 17 & 18 year old college-bound young adults who presumably have the free will to read or see whatever they choose and ask yourself if this is the most graphic, objectionable thing they have experienced this year? If the students are old enough to choose to read or view sexual or violent content their parents disapprove of, shouldn't the school give them the tools to evaluate it?

Spong ends this tale with the words of the author and the teacher. Brokeback Mountain ends, "There was some open spaces between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it you've got to stand it." Horne believe this is the most powerful line of the story. She pushes the students to ask themselves what is broken, the characters or the world they live in. Horne explains," Someone in this book is presumably hit upside the head with a tire iron and killed. I don't worry that any of the students are going to grow up and hit anyone with a tire iron. But I think we can break each other in smaller ways. So if we live in a broken world, what part do we play in it?"

Unfortunately, within Good Book/Bad Book, there is another story to be told, about another family, another assignment, another controversy. And this one has me troubled because as much as I disagree with the banning of books, I think that on some subjects we should give students to right to choose.

The year of the Brokeback rebellion, Rachel Bowling was a student in Kimberly Horne's senior English class. While Rachel's parents were not impressed with the teacher's choice of the Proulx novel for their daughter, they as a family had decided to wait until the end of the year and see if the other parents were successful in removing it from the reading list. Long before that time came however, Horne assigned the novel The God of Small Things, which includes a very graphic, detailed account of child abuse, and to this the Bowlings said no.

Now to disclose my dirty little secret. I do not believe that graphic, detailed accounts of child abuse should be required reading for high school students. I don't think graphic, detailed accounts of child abuse should be required reading for anyone. There are things I simply cannot read, no matter what the provocation, and child abuse is one of them. I know of people who have been to war, who cannot read or watch coverage of Iraq. I know of people who were in New York on 9/11 and cannot watch the new Oliver Stone movie, World Trade Center.

As adults we pick and choose the things we can and can't deal with. Should we be less careful of our children's needs and feelings? Should they not be accorded the same rights as the rest of us to refrain from studying something that might make them literally sick to think about. A student who has experienced abuse, or lost a parent in war or tragedy, could be additionally traumatized by being forced to study that which damaged them to begin with. Where do we draw the line between enlightenment and injury?

I have no definitive answer to the questions I've posed here, but I do have a thought. Education is not about teaching what to think, but how to think. If a student can explain for themselves why a certain topic is not within their comfort zone, shouldn't they be allowed to find a suitable replacement that is? At the end of the day the system should fit the students and not the other way around. Books themselves are not good or bad in a moral sense but depend on their circumstances and situation. As parents and educators it is our job to fix the problem so that students aren't broken in the process.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

At Taxpayer Expense

A flyer came in the mail today, 12x16 on 60lb paper. In big lettering across the top it says, "Hurricane Preparedness Update" and in the center a full color, smiling photo of incumbent Congressman Michael McCaul TX-10. Also included are addresses and phone numbers to the various offices Mr. McCaul keeps around the state, plus his DC digs and an invitation to visit his website. On the back is a helpful checklist of supplies needed in case a hurricane hits, evacuation suggestions, and emergency contact numbers.

On the whole it is a very neatly laid out collection of information, similar to the ones found in the Houston Chronicle, local grocery stores, and any number of places online. What makes this one extra special is that Congressman McCaul makes sure we know he is "Working to Provide Relief and Protection" for the people in his district, and that it came delivered to my home, "prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense."

What annoys me about this is not that Congressman McCaul's flyer is somewhat of a redundant waste of taxpayer money. It's just a drop of piss in the ocean of waste our government squanders everyday, in Iraq, the Medicaid prescription fraud and interest on ever increasing deficit. Nor do I begrudge McCaul the benefit of his incumbency, by using disaster preparedness as a campaign platform from which to engender recognition for his name and likeness in voters. The thing practically screams vote for me, your congressman, because I care (but it doesn't, because that would be illegal).

No, what really pisses me off is that he is allowed to use taxpayer money to campaign for himself in the guise of providing "pertinent information and a checklist to help you prepare for an emergency and respond to a natural disaster," while the candidate I support lacks the resources to do likewise in any meaningful way. McCaul is a multi-millionaire with an equal-figured warchest. He could afford to send out this mailing on his own dime if he really believed it would benefit the people in District 10, but then, doing things that would make a difference isn't McCaul's way.

If Ted Ankrum could get himself elected to congress, he would show how much he cares about this district by voting to bring our service men and women home from the travesty that is Iraq. He could show how he cares about our seniors, by voting to save Social Security and pass a real comprehensive national healthcare plan. And he would work to reduce our dependence of foreign oil, plan for alternative energies and reduce the pollutants that are causing global warming and therefore the trend toward more and more horrific hurricanes.

But Ted doesn't have the platform or the resources to tell people these things quite the same way the heavily-funded incumbent congressman can. So while McCaul continues to vote for bills that leave us more and more vulnerable overseas and at home, he sends home messages of hope with a sincere grin, hefty cardstock and very readable typeface. And we continue to pay for this shit.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Net Neutrality or Bust

First let me say I am sorry this has been such a long time coming. I cannot believe my last post was nearly a month ago. I would like to blame the end of the school year or my daughter's 18th b-day, which both took a lot of my time, but mostly I have been taking a break and reading (damn you bubba for giving me such good books for my birthday). But I feel it has been time well spent because I have recharged my engines and hope to be more productive in days to come.

The good news is that I have finally managed to come to an opinion in favor of Net Neutrality, thanks to Molly Ivins and strangely enough, The New Republic Online. Molly made me remember we cannot trust our corporate-sponsored government to do what is right for consumers, and TNR managed to write the most concise opinion on why Net Neutrality is important. Follow the link to read the entire article, but I reprint the most important bits:

"Content providers from Google and Amazon to Daily Kos and TNR Online currently pay Web-hosting companies to put their content on the Internet. Consumers then access that content via Internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon. Under the new FCC guidelines, those companies will be able to charge content providers a fee to deliver their content to consumers and, in particular, an additional surcharge to deliver their content to consumers more quickly--that is, they will be able to create a faster toll lane on the information superhighway. If they want, the telecoms can favor their own services and penalize competitors--for instance, voice over Internet protocol companies like Vonage--by denying them faster service. They can even charge lucrative fees to companies for exclusive access to the fast lane at the expense of their competitors, giving, for example, L.L. Bean an advantage over Lands' End. And, by making the fast lane prohibitively expensive, they can force start-up ventures and noncommercial providers (like blogs) onto the bumpy dirt roads of the Internet"...snip

"Most important, as Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has argued, the Internet is not only a tool for economic growth, it is also a public commons for the exchange of ideas. It is where Americans can not only search for the best deal on a new digital camera, but also debate the country's future. Unlike the telephone, it is a medium in which thousands, even millions, of people can participate in the same discussion at the same time. Unlike television, it is interactive. But it can't function optimally if content is prioritized or filtered by telecom companies. Allowing companies to levy a toll on information providers is not just a blow to consumer choice--it's a blow to democracy."

I've started to think of it like shopping. There are many ways to get to your favorite store. You can walk or ride your bike for a very low price, but it takes a long time (like dial-up). You can choose to drive there, which is quicker, but cost gas and you must have a car (like DSL or cable). But what if you found that when you got to the store it cost to get in, or you had to wait in line, not because the store wanted it that way, but because the gas companies or the highway construction companies wanted to make more money off your transportation costs. You've already paid them for their services, through taxes and gas and car payments, but they want to take a bite from both ends, for their initial service and for what you do with it too.

Sounds crazy right, but that is the nutshell argument. And they say, well we can't build more better roads if we don't have this money. But you've seen the toll roads going up all over town, so you know they have figured out how to make consumers pay more for faster service. To make things even more frightening, your favorite store ends up having to close down because there was never a particularly good road built to it, but the new Walmart down the street got priority treatment somehow and has taken all its business, because it is sooooooo easy to get to, has lots of parking and cheap stuff too, if not what you really wanted in the first place.

Welcome to the internet without Net Neutrality. Consumers lose all the way around, on cost and choice, while the telecos find ways to boost earnings at our expense. My main man Russ Feingold has seen the parallels to what has been happening in the radio and concert areas as well. Wonder why you haven't heard the Dixie Chicks new song on the radio? What if Walmart decided to stop selling their CD too? Then it was unavailable on the internet. Welcome to dissent free America. We have lost the power to control so much in this country, lets not let the internet be next. Support Net Neutrality!

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Net Neutrality

This is one of thos post that asks for information rather than giving it. I have done as much research on the topic as I feel approprate and I still don't see the big picture. Please someone, enlighten me. And be gentle.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

So, What's the Point of College?

On the surface this is one of those "who cares" stories. It seems the president's personal aide, a long time family friend and college dropout, has been admitted to Harvard Business School, despite his lack of sheepskin. The thought is that four years babysitting the WH dogs, making PB & J's and giving W a two minute warning before speeches is fairly equal to four years of undergraduate studies. An "A" in cronyism gets you into the Ivy League everytime.

I've long believed that Universities are more interested in what kind of alumni you will make than how you will perform as a student. HBS obviously realize this kid has the right connections to make him "their" kind of alumni, so the decision is win/win for them. Others have pointed out that four years in the White House must be a learning experience like none other. For those who have seen West Wing, picture the lessons Charlie has learned from Jeb Bartlett. The problem here is, W is not a Jeb Bartlett, history wonk and philosopher. Nor is he a Bill Clinton, Rhodes Scholar. He's not even a Ronald Reagan or a George I. As we have seen from the results of his presidency, W is a former "C" student, failed CEO president, who disdains intellectualism, lacks inquisitiveness and presides over the most dissent free administration in decades. What could this kid have possibly learned from that?

Going to college is about a lot of things - growing up and becoming independent, meeting new people and new ways of thinking, studying a variety of subjects and diversifying your knowledge, but most of all, it is about challenge. Challenging yourself and what you know, challenging your parents and what they have taught you, challenging your professors and classmates until you are blue in the face and loaded for bear. Blake Gottesman, the young man in question, has quite possibly managed to grow into adulthood over the last four years, and he has certainly met quite a few people, but as for the most important lessons of a college education, his time in the Bush WH has been a miserable failure, of that we can be sure.

The unfortunate and lasting outcome of this action by Harvard is another generation of bad business school grads let loose on a nation besieged by corporate corruption. Yes, they have been graduating useless students for decades; just look at the president. But wouldn't it be nice if actual hard work and educational achievement were rewarded over cronyism and elitism. But then again, like government contracts and executive salaries, things in America just don't work that way.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Politics and Sacrifice

This is one of those topics I have been wanting to write about for some time, but never found the hook. Pontificating on politics is easy, but talk about sacrifice, who does that anymore? We live in a society that reveres athleticism, glamour, celebrity, wealth and many other not-so-worthy attributes. Sacrifice, civic responsibility, altruism are so like, last century.

Also, the subject always veers in religion and a tirade against those bible-thumping, self-serving pimps to big business like Tom DeLay and W, who preach a personal relationship with Jesus, but act in the antithesis of his teachings, and the so-called religious right, who pay lip-service to Christianity, but are actually more interested in forcing their self-centered moralism on the rest of America and the world. For some reason sacrifice is not one of their talking points.

It was, however, the center focus of last night's Katy Area Democrats meeting from both speakers, Barbara Ann Radnofsky and Chris Bell. Radnofsky is the Democratic nominee for US senate, running against Kay Bailey Hutchison R-TX, and Chris Bell is the Democratic nominee for Texas Governor, running against Governor Goodhair (Rick Perry), Carole Keeton (McClellan Rylander) Strayhorn, and Kinky Friedman. Both candidates invoked the age old concepts of public good, responsible citizenship, and yes, sacrifice. Coincidence, I think not; more likely a convergence of good politics and good policy. Is this part of Howard Dean's 50 state program? I certainly hope so.

Ms. Radnofsky spoke quite candidly of her grandfather and father's service in WW I & II. She reminded us of the sacrifices asked of all Americans during these times of crises, and she asked, "After 9/11, what sacrifice was asked of you? Go shopping!" People lined up outside blood banks after the terrorist attacks because they wanted to give of themselves, but were told go spend money instead. What a waste of human potential.

Bell pointed out what a good job the Republicans have done since Bush was enthroned in 2000, of calling everyone who disagrees with them "out of the mainstream." Question Iraq, warrantless wiretaps or deficit spending and you are "out there." Mention global warming, the healthcare crisis or the failing middle class, and you are "one of the fanatical left." His plan is to call for a "new mainstream," one that combines the people's outrage at what has happened in this country in the last six years with a call for sacrifice that Americans should willingly give.

Americans want to be safe from terrorism, but they should also want to be free from a government bent on destroying the constitution in the process. Americans should know that energy independence and alternative sources of power will improve our national security, our economy and our world from global warming. Americans should want the country to be prosperous, but not at the expense of the middle class who pay most the bills, the elderly who have already given so much, or our children, who are our future. Americans should demand leaders who deal honestly with these and all other issues of the day.

It is not pessimistic, fanatical or outside the mainstream to want to confront the difficult issues that lay ahead and be willing to work hard, to sacrifice, to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness again. It is the earliest known American Value and one that still exists today. Chris Bell and Barbara Ann Radnofsky know this, and they deserve our respect, our money and our vote.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ethanol - OK to drink but don't put it in your car

Complete following phrase:

Ethanol is to Energy Solutions as Pork is to …...

A. Food
B. Offending Muslims
C. Happy Farmers
D. Barrel Politics
E. All of the Above

The answer of course is E – all of the above.

Without going into detail about my answer let me tell you where am I going with this. All over the news lately I have seen Talking Heads going on about the wonderful prospects of ethanol to replace oil. This is just complete BS. There is considerable debate as to whether corn-based ethanol is actually energy positive – meaning that it puts out more energy as a fuel than was used to create it. Assuming for the time being that it is, its EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) is generally assumed to be low (1.3??), and considerable fossil fuel is required to make ethanol.

Here are some facts about corn based ethanol from my good friend Engineer-Poet:


Can ethanol from corn or other grain replace gasoline?

Answer: Almost certainly not, for several reasons.
There isn't enough grain. The best process we have makes about 2.66 gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn (maize). The 2004 maize harvest was about 11.8 billion bushels; if all of it was used for ethanol, it could make a maximum of 31.4 billion gallons of ethanol (with energy equivalent to about 22 billion gallons of gasoline). US gasoline consumption in 2003 was roughly 134 billion gallons, or more than 6 times the amount which can be replaced by ethanol production from corn. Total US motor fuel consumption (gasoline and diesel fuel) is approximately 200 billion gallons per year.

Ethanol requires too much other fuel to produce it. A gallon of ethanol (84,200 BTU) consumes about 33,000 BTU of heat in the distillation process alone. Some of this heat comes from coal or cogenerators, but most distillers burn natural gas or LPG. LPG is a petroleum byproduct, and natural gas supplies are tight and getting tighter. Ethanol producers are competing with people who need to heat their homes. The energy losses of the ethanol process make it more efficient to burn the grain for heat, and use the LPG or natural gas as motor fuel (source).
The 33,000 BTU’s to make a gallon of ethanol discussed above does not include any of the energy required to plant, fertilize, grow, harvest, and transport the corn to the factory to make ethanol. A number of serious scientists are convinced that if all this required energy is properly accounted for, corn-based ethanol uses up more energy than it gives back.

How could this be? Dan Rather was waxing eloquently on "60 Minutes" the other day about the wonders of corn-derived ethanol. And on the other end of the Talking Head Spectrum, my hero, Bill O’Reilly (O’Lielly) told me that Brazil was energy self-sufficient due to its investments in sugarcane-derived ethanol. Who is telling the truth here?

Well first of all, you know that if Bill O’Reilly is hawking this, something must smelling fishy. Although Brazil has had a relatively successful program promoting ethanol, it has had an even more successful program exploring for oil and gas. Consequently, their oil production has reached a level where they are close to being energy independent. Ethanol helps in this regard, but the main engine for their energy success has been deepwater oil exploration and development in the Campos Basin.

So in the end what do we have?

Ethanol is to Energy as Pork is to Food. True – but man cannot live on pork alone.

Ethanol does at least present the appearance that we are trying to break free of dependence on Middle East oil – Disappointing the Saudis (Muslims).

Ethanol, as a subsidized source of profit for mid-western corn farmers certainly makes them happy.

But primarily the promotion of corn-based ethanol is designed to shore up political support in some of the mid-western swing states. Corn is best used for food, not running cars down the freeway. We have to come up with better solution, one that actually is good for the whole country.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

United 93

I hadn’t planned on seeing United 93 because I didn’t like the idea of someone making a profit off the deaths of the people on that plane. But Saturday night rolled around and having nothing better to do, my friends and I went to the theater. And geez… is Hollywood having a dry spell. Not much out there right now. So my friends convinced me to see United 93.

First of all, let me say how hard it was to watch it. I’m not an overly emotional kind of person and the only two movies I’ve ever cried in were “Mask” and “Steel Magnolias” (you know the scene too… when Sally Field loses it in the graveyard). I shed one or two itsy bitsy tears in United 93. I couldn’t help it. The movie brought back everything… all the emotion, the utter helplessness and the fear. September 11th was the day Americans finally realized that we, too, are vulnerable. It was the day we all ceased to become black or white or Republican or Democrat… we were all Americans that day. Just Americans. From the white woman who patted my hand through the Wendy’s drive-thru window to the Middle-Eastern gentleman at the convenience store who had tears in his eyes as he watched his small television in the store. We came together that day and we bought flags and proudly displayed them in our cars and outside our homes. I remember eating dinner in Red Lobster on Thursday of that week and everyone left the restaurant at 7pm and walked into the parking lot. 75 or so strangers held hands and prayed for those who had died. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.

So yeah… it was hard to watch and all the emotion came flooding back.

Another friend of mine said… “I didn't want to come out of this movie feeling warm and fuzzy about our stupid President and full of hate for Muslims.” And you don’t get that from the movie. In fact, the movie stays about as far away from a political statement as you can get. If you walked into the movie as a supporter or a detractor of the war in Iraq, you’ll probably walk out the same way. There is mention of the President a few times in the movie when the military is trying to find him so they can get orders on the ROE (Rules of Engagement). As plane after plane was reported hijacked and air traffic controllers tried to get 4500 or 5000 planes grounded and international flights turned around, our military did not know if they could engage because the planes were civilian. Only the President could make that decision and as it turned out, he eventually did give the order to shoot down the planes but military leaders did not pass this order on to the pilots for fear of there being an accidental shooting… there were still many, many planes in the air trying to land. But other than that, there was no mention of anything or anyone political at all. The movie was straight forward and told the facts as we know them.

The actors and actresses were unknowns and not your normal Hollywood types by any means. You or I could have been in this movie. That adds a touch of realism to the whole thing. The whole movie is almost like a documentary and follows the people that were on United 93 from the moment they got to the airport and into the plane until the moment the plane goes down in a field in Pennsylvania.

Where it gets a little sketchy for me is at the end. We don’t really know if the passengers made it into cockpit before the plane crashed or if the pilots were killed. The movie speculates at the end and I don’t care for the fact that many people will probably walk away from this movie thinking that the end of the movie is actually fact, when in actuality we don’t know what happened up there and probably never will. Despite the speculation, however, the movie is well done and stays true to the facts up until the very end when facts simply must give way to our most educated guesses.

At the end, the packed theater was completely silent. There was no clapping, no shuffling of popcorn bags and sodas, no crying… nothing. No one stood up immediately to leave. After several minutes people slowly begin to file out of the theater. There were many tear-streaked faces and I know if I had seen my own face it would have looked dazed and shocked, just like it did on September 11th. For all of its simple, understated qualities, this is a powerful movie that packs a punch. I don’t know if it’s “too soon” or not, but I know that the movie will elicit a very strong reaction for anyone that lived through that day.

I was driving to work on September 11th, when the first plane hit. By the time I got to work and turned on my small desktop television, the second plane had hit and the rumors were already starting to spread. I remember Peter Jennings telling people not to panic… not to believe everything they were hearing. Instead of the media’s usual habit of playing up the smallest drama or tragedy, all our news reporters were doing their best to keep the country as calm as they could. Anyway… I remember very clearly, Jennings said at one point … “America will never be the same.”

You were right, Peter… you were right.

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